- Seven-year-old girl killed in Mandalay
- Military blames activists for arson, violence
- Junta says 164 protesters killed and is sorry for deaths
- Western powers step up sanctions on coup leaders
- At least 261 killed since Feb. 1 coup -activists
March 23 (Reuters) - A 7-year-old girl was killed in her home when security forces opened fire in Myanmar's second city Mandalay on Tuesday - the youngest victim so far in a crackdown against opposition to last month's military coup.
The ruling junta accused pro-democracy protesters of arson and violence during the weeks of unrest, and said it would use the least force possible to quell the daily demonstrations.
Junta spokesman Zaw Min Tun said 164 protesters had been killed in total and he expressed sadness at the deaths. The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) activist group says at least 261 people have been killed in the security forces' crackdown.
"They are also our citizens," Zaw Min Tun told a news conference in the capital Naypyitaw, a day after the European Union and the United States imposed more sanctions on groups or individuals linked to the Feb. 1 coup that ousted Aung San Suu Kyi's elected government.
Staff at a Mandalay funeral service told Reuters that a 7-year-old girl had died of bullet wounds in Chan Mya Thazi township on Tuesday.
Soldiers shot at her father but hit the girl who was sitting on his lap inside their home, her sister told Myanmar Now media outlet. Two men were also killed in the township, it said.
The military had no immediate comment on the incident.
As night fell, candle-lit vigils were held in the commercial capital Yangon and other cities.
The junta has faced international condemnation for staging the coup that halted Myanmar's slow transition to democracy and for its lethal suppression of the protests that followed.
It has tried to justify the takeover by saying a Nov. 8 election won by Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) was fraudulent - an accusation the electoral commission has rejected. Military leaders have promised a new election but have not set a date and have declared a state of emergency.
The junta's Zaw Min Tun blamed the bloodshed on the protesters and said nine members of the security forces had been also killed.
"Can we call these peaceful protesters?" he said, while showing a video of factories on fire. "Which country or organisation would regard this violence as peaceful?"
He said strikes and hospitals not fully operating had caused deaths, including from COVID-19, calling them "undutiful and unethical".
The spokesman also accused media of "fake news" and fanning unrest and said reporters could be prosecuted if they were in contact with the CRPH, as the remnants of Suu Kyi's government is known. The military has declared the CRPH an illegal organisation and said membership is punishable by death.
In the more than three-hour news conference, he gave granular details on how the NLD had created hundreds or even thousands of extra ballots in numerous townships by inventing voters, including in Suu Kyi's own constituency. Videos of people saying they were paid by NLD representatives.
The NLD has denied making any attempt to rig the election.
Also shown was video testimony of former Yangon chief minister Phyo Min Thein saying he visited Suu Kyi multiple times and gave her money "whenever needed".
Suu Kyi, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her campaign to bring democratic civilian rule to Myanmar, has been in detention since the coup and faces charges that her lawyer says have been cooked up to discredit her.
The European Union and the United States imposed sanctions on Monday against individuals involved in the coup and the repression of the demonstrators.
The 11 people the EU targeted included General Min Aung Hlaing, the military's commander-in-chief and now the head of the junta. read more
The EU already has an arms embargo on Myanmar and has targeted some senior military officials since 2018.
Washington had already sanctioned Min Aung Hlaing and the measures announced on Monday expanded the list.
Some of Myanmar's neighbours also spoke out against the violence.
"We believe violence against unarmed civilians is inexcusable," Singapore Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said in Kuala Lumpur after talks with his Malaysian counterpart.
He said that although they did not believe in external interference in a country's domestic affairs, "we stand ready to do our best to support the people of Myanmar who in fact deserve so much better in the future."
The junta said it is cooperating with five neighbouring countries - Bangladesh, China, India, Laos and Thailand - and values and respects their words. As China has major business interests in Myanmar and is a member of the U.N. Security Council, its stance on the crisis is particularly important to the generals.
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